Gilland takes helm of 2nd Infantry Division at sensitive time in S. Korea
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2019
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The former commandant of cadets at West Point assumed the helm of the 2nd Infantry Division on Wednesday as senior officials insisted that changes to military exercises to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea have not diminished the ability to “fight tonight.”
Maj. Gen. Steve Gilland, who took command from Maj. Gen. Scott McKean during a ceremony at the Warrior Division’s new headquarters on Camp Humphreys, inherits the challenge of balancing the need to maintain readiness with diplomatic efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons.
The change of command comes less than a year after the 2nd ID vacated its longtime home at Camp Red Cloud near the border with North Korea as part of a long-planned relocation.
McKean, who will become chief of staff for U.S. Central Command, oversaw the division’s move to Humphreys, a sprawling base some 55 miles south of Seoul.
He said the move has allowed the division to practice rail movements and convoy operations as units need to regularly commute north to remaining installations.
McKean also dismissed concerns that the decision to scale back joint military drills with South Korea has harmed readiness.
“This division is ready to fight and fight right now,” he told reporters in brief remarks before the change-of-command ceremony. “This division trains every day. It trains combined with our [South Korean] partners and we maintain a very high level of readiness at all times.”
The military has canceled the main exercises that took place twice a year, replacing them with lower profile drills after President Donald Trump announced he was “stopping the war games” following his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018.
The North, which considers the drills to be rehearsals for an invasion, has not been mollified. The communist state warned on Tuesday that it may reconsider plans to resume working-level negotiations over its nuclear weapons program if the next round of exercises occurs as expected later this summer. It also hinted it may restart nuclear and missile tests over the joint drills.
But in a sign of the extent to which tensions have been reduced since McKean took command two years ago, nobody mentioned North Korea at Wednesday’s ceremony.
“Over the past few years in the midst of exceptional change in the Northeast Asia region, the eyes of the world were upon Korea … as the soldiers of 2ID are always prepared to fight tonight,” Lt. Gen. Michael Bills, the Eighth Army commander, said after the passing of the colors.
He praised McKean for leading the division through 15 rotational transitions from battalion to brigade levels as well as more than 90 operational and tactical training events, one-third of which were combined with South Koreans at the level of battalion and above. He also said the division conducted 65 no-notice emergency deployment readiness exercises during McKean’s tenure.
“Even with the constant focus on readiness, training, rotational units and the friction of personnel turnover the Warrior Division seamlessly transitioned 6,930 soldiers and their equipment from across four camps to consolidate on Camp Humphreys,” Bills added.
Gilland, originally from Rock Island, Ill., graduated from West Point as an infantry officer in 1990 and went on to earn a master’s degree in military operational art and science from the Air Force Command and Staff College. He became the 77th commandant of cadets at the U.S. military academy in June 2017. In that role, Gilland had responsibility for discipline and training for 4,200 West Point cadets.
The 2nd Infantry Division is the Army’s only permanently forward deployed and combined division.
Some 28,500 American servicemembers are stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.